The Fugitive Slave’s Apostrophe to Niagara by E.D.H.

slave
Freedom Crossing Monument in Lewiston, NY. , looking toward Canada. Sculpture by Susan Geissler

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Hail to thy roaring flood,
Eternal torrent ! dark Niagara , hail !
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡How bounds my boiling blood,
As thy loud voice comes thundering on the gale,
And the tumultuous waves thy dark-brown rocks assail.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Fierce is thy thunder-shock,
As the wild waters in their madness leap
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡From the eternal rock,
Plunging and raging, with impetuous sweep,
Till on the lake’s calm breast thy boiling billows sleep.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡So terrible and strong,
Whirl maddening passions in the bondman’s breast,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Trampled and scarred by Wrong,
Ere the tired spirit finds its hallowed rest,
In Freedom’s stormless home, and glorious sunlight blessed.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Roll and roar on, wild river !
Man’s fetters cannot bind thy billows free—,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Chainless and strong forever ;
As thou hast been, thy leaping flood shall be,
Guarding, with watery wall, the land of liberty.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Glory to God on high !
Free as thy tide are my unshackled limbs ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And here, unawed, will I
Join the wild chorus thy mad torrent hymns,
Stirring the pictured mist that o’er thy bosom swims.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Far from the southern plains,
I’ve traced my pathway, through the sunless wild,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Spurning the hated chains
That on my heel clanked heavy, from a child,
Binding to earth the soul, degraded and defiled.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡On, by the beacon led,
That burns, unerring, in the northern sky,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O’er the lone fields I fled,
To where thy thunder lifts its voice on high,
And to the bondman tells the land of freedom nigh.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Here, by thy foaming surge,
Back on the hated land where I was born, —
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Land of the chain and scourge, —
I pour the fires of unrelenting scorn,
And hatred that shall burn, till life’s last ray is gone.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Home of the true and brave,”
Where BASTARD FREEDOM broods her mongrel horde,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And on the imbruted slave
Plants the red heel, and with the life-blood poured,
Stains the fell altars, where her horrid name’s adored.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡It gave me but the chain,
The scourge, and task, and bondman’s life of woe,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And ruthless torn in twain
The holiest ties that bind us here below, —
Hearts that inwoven beat with one united flow.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Nor thus to me alone, —
But fettered millions lift their arms on high,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And shriek, and wail, and groan,
To Heaven ascending, in one fearful cry,
Bid the red bolts of wrath in hissing vengeance fly.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And yet our God shall turn,
And on this land his fiery volleys pour,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Till his fierce wrath shall burn
From far Astoria, to her eastern shore,
And from her Sable cape, to where thy waters roar.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Joy to the bondmen then,
When his right arm is laid for Justice bare,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And loud from every glen
And mountain, lit by one funereal glare,
Ascends the tyrant’s wail upon the troubled air.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Then shall thy torrent be
Their strong munition, and its bounding flood
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡A guard, to them that flee
From the Avenger of the Negro’s blood ;
Where blackness shrouds the land, where erst her glory stood.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Over thy rugged brow
Changeless and bright, the bow of promise bends,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Making the dark mist glow,
As Hope the clouds of Sorrow, when she lends
To Earth the joyous light which from her glance descends.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Eternal Priestess, thine
Is the pure baptism of the chainless free ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Cool on this brow of mine
Thy holy drops descend, as broad to me
Unroll the temple-gates of meek-eyed Liberty !

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Let the fell tyrant rage ;
Into thy arms my sinewy form I fling,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡And though his keel may wage
Mad warfare with thy billows, buffeting
The roaring floods with might, thou’lt guard me from his sting.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡He may not cross thy tide,
With the strong fetters of a tyrant’s power ;
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Thy waves in foaming pride
The shrieking wretch in madness would devour,
And clap their hands, and shout the bondman’s triumph hour.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡O that the Negro’s God
Would give to dust this mortal part once more,
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡That o’er thy awful flood,
Swathed in the cloud-wreath dim, my soul might soar,
Exulting in the sound of thy eternal roar.

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡Loud with thy thunder tone
My voice shall blend, and when this land shall rock
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With its last earthquake groan,
My shout the tyrant’s dying shriek should mock,
And chant the victor -hymn to Ruin’s rending shock.

November 1, 1841

Source: Buckingham, Joseph Tinker. Personal Memoirs and Recollections of Editorial Life. Boston: Ticknor, 1852.

Read more about the Freedom Crossing Monument

Read about the Underground Railroad which helped fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada

 

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